Is Scotland on the right track? More or less…

Today saw the publication of “Is Scotland on the right track?”, a new and extensive report authored by Tom Harris of Third Avenue Public Affairs.

Funded by Abellio/ScotRail, the report is an objective analysis of the challenges, weaknesses and successes of the latest ScotRail franchise since its launch in 2015. Abellio invited Tom to write the report drawing on his experience as a railways minister in the last Labour government, and his continued involvement in, and knowledge of, the industry ever since.

From the Message Matters press release announcing the launch of the report:


Former Transport Minister Tom Harris’s review warns government not to “dispense with the benefits of the private sector”

Tom Harris, the former UK Government Transport Minister, has today released a new report on the future of Scotland’s railways – Is Scotland on the right track? The report can be read in full here.

The report is written by Harris and uses new polling research conducted by Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research. The report was commissioned by Abellio, but researched, written and managed independently.

The report is explicitly written from the perspective not of train managers, company operators or politicians, but of the ordinary Scottish railway passenger.

Against a political backdrop of calls for ‘nationalisation’ of the railways, the report’s key findings are:

  • The railway industry has had remarkable success since the end of British Rail, and passenger numbers in Scotland have doubled in the last 15 years alone
  • Franchises have been an essential part of this renaissance by applying private sector disciplines, strategies and flexibility
  • There should be more focus on delivering on passenger priorities, primary amongst which is value for money
  • Government and industry should provide more clarity on the layers of responsibility so that the public knows with whom the fault lies when something goes wrong
  • Network Rail should radically reorganise its own structures on a more localised basis, and this should be piloted in Scotland
  • Full nationalisation is not the only alternative structure to the status quo, but making a radical change on purely ideological grounds would ill serve customers

Tom Harris said:

“When it comes to the railways, bad news is big news and good news is no news.

“Because of that, we’d be forgiven for thinking that our railways are a disaster, but this is manifestly not true. In fact, for the whole of this century we have seen a remarkable railway renaissance.

“Our polling research has shown that the public in general are complimentary about the performance of Scotland’s railways (see notes to editors). However, there are problems, and those problems have led to some politically charged calls for blanket nationalisation.

“The Scottish Government should not ignore this, but also it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If it feels the need to change the franchise model, it should consider moving to a concession model where the government shoulders both profit and risk, but the private sector runs the service.

“It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”


Tom takes up new post with Cogitamus

Third Avenue director and founder, Tom Harris, has been appointed as an Associate Consultant with the public affairs firm Cogitamus, which specialises in transport policy.

The new role won’t affect his other commitments as Senior Counsel to Message Matters, as a member of the Reform Scotland advisory board, or as a daily columnist for the Telegraph. His role as director of Third Avenue is also unaffected.

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Prime Minister Corbyn… and other things that never happened (or will never happen)

screenshot-2016-09-25-11-51-59Third Avenue director Tom Harris is one of the authors of a new collection of “counter-factual” political histories published by BiteBack.

The 23 essays include intriguing what-ifs such as

  • What if Britain had lost the Falklands War?
  • What if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014?
  • What if David Miliband had beaten Ed Miliband to the Labour leadership in 2010?
  • What if Lyndon Johnson had been shot down in 1942?

Tom is the author of one of two essays lending the book its title, and speculates about what might happen in the event of Jeremy Corbyn, the newly re-elected Labour leader, actually winning a general election. NOTE: Not for readers of a nervous disposition…

Prime Minister Corbyn is available direct from BiteBack and from all good bookstores. Other online shops are available.

National Express – living up to its values?

Screenshot 2016-07-27 16.43.51Last year, National Express, one of Europe’s biggest and most successful transport providers, asked Tom Harris to undertake an extensive review of how successful the company has been in meeting its own commitment to its employees. NX is committed to “developing the talents, rewarding the exceptional performance and respecting the rights of all our employees”.

Using face-to-face interviews with NX staff in the UK, Spain and in the United States, Tom reported on how far the company has come and made recommendations for further improvements. His final report was submitted to the board of National Express in April 2016.

You can view and download the report here.


In post-EU Britain, what is the Labour Party for?

A recurring theme of the Labour Party’s campaign to persuade voters to back remaining in the EU was a recitation of the list of workers’ rights allegedly won and protected by the EU on our behalf.

This was a crucial element of the so-called “left wing case for the EU”. But it left one with a nagging question: if the EU is responsible for all these rights at work, what’s the Labour Party for?

The danger of attributing to the EU achievements that were hard won by trade unions working in concert with Labour governments seems not to have occurred to the party’s leaders.

So let me spell it out: every major advance in workplace rights, whether record maternity pay, the right to protection against discrimination on the grounds of race or sex, the right to join a trade union and have it recognised by your employer, and the national minimum wage, was won through a UK Labour movement.

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Who will lead Labour’s moderates? Step forward, Sadiq Khan

The biggest lie in British politics is that the Labour Party is a broad church. It is not. It consists of two separate, distinct parties, each with its own diametrically-opposed philosophy.

While Jeremy Corbyn is the nominal leader of the whole party, encompassing both left and right, he is the spiritual leader and conscience of the hard left, a party committed to red-blooded socialism and principled opposition, even if (preferably if) those principles prevent it from forming a government.

The right of the party (whose adherents self-describe variously as “soft left”, “moderates” or “New Labour”) believes first and foremost in winning elections and are prepared to make whatever compromises they need to in order to do so. They are the “half a loaf is better than no loaf at all” wing of the party, and they have nothing in common with their hard left compatriots other than a matching membership card.

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It’s official: the BNP is finally the joke party we all knew it was years ago

Reports of the British National Party’s disappearance are, regrettably, premature. It became an un-party when its own officials failed to meet the onerous conditions imposed on them by law – chiefly filling in a form and posting it to the Electoral Commission, alongside a cheque for twenty-five quid. Which turns out to be harder than it sounds.

However its role as a repository of votes from and for the hard of thinking will probably continue to be with us in the medium term; the administrative cock-up is no doubt being investigated by a BNP task force which will be on the case just as soon as they can find the bloke with the key to the meeting room. God knows what will happen when the cry goes up: “Does anyone have a stamp?”

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Jeremy Corbyn stars in Labour Party Christmas Carol


What’s the point? I mean, really: what’s the point?

Columnists throughout the country are spending this week sharing pearls of wisdom, explaining to their political masters where they’ve gone wrong in 2015, warning of the opportunities and pitfalls that lie before them in the New Year and explaining how they can be in a better position a year from now than they are today.

If I were a member of a remotely functional party or, for example, a serious party that wanted more than anything to displace the party of government, then maybe such efforts might be worthwhile. I might expect a leading Shadow Cabinet member or thoughtful back bencher to scroll through the various online didacticisms and glean the occasional idea or even inspiration from among them.

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A beginner’s guide to the Labour Party rulebook, Part 2: reselection of MPs

Much of the discussion around Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party has focused on the perceived threat to moderate, mostly critical, MPs, who feel vulnerable to the threat of deselection as a Labour candidate at the next election.

“Deselection” is one of those weird words so regularly used by political activists and journalists that we forget it has very little meaning to ordinary voters. But although its meaning is relatively simple, the Labour Party processes that will decide MPs’ fates during this parliament and beyond, are absurdly complex, perhaps inevitably so, given that they have evolved through a long series of political and managerial compromise and manoeuvring.Continue reading